The rivalry between Cape Girardeau and Jackson remains constant, whether during the high school season or during the summer American Legion schedule.
That rivalry will enter foreign territory this weekend in Jackson, as the two teams will be competing together for the Zone 4 Tournament title for the first time. This is only Jackson's second zone appearance, after making it for the first time last season. Cape last played in the zone two seasons ago.
Both teams enter the tournament on hot streaks. Jackson, which won its first District 14 title last week, has won 15 straight. Cape Ford & Sons has won 11 of its last 14 games. The two teams will be joined by Manchester, Anheuser-Busch and Festus in the double-elimination tournament which begins today.
Opening matchups today feature Anheuser-Busch vs. Manchester at 5:30 p.m., and Jackson vs. Festus at 8:30 p.m.
Jackson and Cape have met five times this season, with Jackson winning three times. Jackson won the final two meetings, both in the district tournament. The two teams could meet again in zone play on Friday.
"Every time you play Cape the intensity is there," Jackson first baseman Brandon Gendron said. "You don't have to get pumped up. Meeting them in the zone would make it even more intense."
Cape, which has an opening-round bye, will play the winner of the Jackson/Festus game at 1 p.m. on Friday. The championship game is set for 7 p.m. on Saturday.
"It would have been nice if we could have beaten them [Jackson] in the district, but we were able to get in the zone," Cape first baseman Sean Bard said. "Maybe we can beat them in the zone."
Jackson had its spot in the zone tournament guaranteed at the beginning of the season as the district tournament host. But the team has been on a tear anyway.
"You've got the team focused, everybody's talking about baseball in the dugout," Gendron said. "Everyone's ready to play. The reason we're winning is timely hitting and defense."
A month into the season Cape Girardeau was mired in a 10-game losing streak and sported a 10-19 record. Ford & Sons chose the right time to get hot, though, winning three of four games in the District 14 tournament and qualifying for the zone tournament as the district runner-up.
"We've turned it around and picked it up these last couple of weeks," Cape coach Dave Meyr said.
Added Bard: "It was a struggle at the middle of the year, but we have pulled together at the right time."
The hottest team coming in is Jackson, which began its winning streak with a 5-0 win over Manchester. Using a combination of timely hitting, solid defense and strong overall pitching, Jackson has outscored its opponents 112-39 during its winning streak and averaged 7.5 runs a game.
"We haven't been great in just one area, we've been good in all three," Jackson coach Mark Lewis said.
The offense is led by Brandon Gendron, who is second on the team with a .447 batting average. Gendron has a team-high 51 RBIs and 11 home runs, along with 29 runs scored. Rex Meyr leads the team with a .453 average and a team-high 30 runs scored. Jason Meystedt and Derrick Biri are hitting .366 and .357, respectively, and Biri has a team-high 33 stolen bases.
Lewis said the bottom of the lineup really stepped up in the district tournament.
"If you're tough one through nine, it makes it very hard for the pitcher on the other team," Lewis said. "It allows you to work the pitcher through nine batters and get to the bullpen."
The rotation, which has allowed less than three runs a game during the winning streak, is anchored by Tyler Beussink and Meystedt. Oak Ridge graduate Austin Morrison has also done well as the No. 3 pitcher. Meystedt leads the starters with a 2.88 ERA, and Beussink leads the team with six wins.
"They've been consistent all year," Lewis said. "When we were struggling, we weren't playing defense or not hitting. I always thought the pitching was pretty good."
For Cape, the key to its late-season surge has been improved pitching and defense. While the offense scores more than six runs a game, Cape's defense averages close to three errors a game despite its recent improvement.
The pitching staff has an ERA over 5.00, with only one starter with an ERA under 2.00. Jeremy Brinkmeyer and Kirk Boeller both had strong starts in the district tournament, though, and reliever Mike Taylor has one of the top ERA's on the team.
"As long as our pitching's good and we play good defense, we'll have a shot at it," Meyr said. "Our hitting's been good all year. I feel better about this tournament going in than the district down there.
"They're building some confidence now. The pitchers have confidence in the defense, and the defense knows the pitcher's are going to make the other team hit the ball. You get to this time of year, all these teams can hit well."
Scott Brueckner leads Ford & Sons in hitting, batting near .370, while Sean Bard leads in RBIs with 40.
THE OTHER TEAMS
* Festus enters the zone at 36-7 after battling through the District 13 losers bracket and avenging an opening loss to Perryville with two do-or-die victories in the final round.
Cody Whitehead was 14-for-24 with four home runs and 12 RBIs in five tournament games. He leads the St. Louis area in home runs (13) to go with 73 RBIs and a .444 batting average. Zak Shy is hitting .423 with eight home runs and 39 RBIs.
Leading pitchers are Cody Stites (7-0), Drew Horrell (6-0, 1.50 ERA in 56 innings) and Brad Buehler (8-1, 1.02 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 41 1/3 innings).
Coach Pat Bone told the Suburban Journals: "We feel like we match up well with literally anyone across the country. ... I'll take this crew anywhere and we'll strap it on and match up anytime."
* Manchester enters the zone at 24-8 after winning the District 10 title in a showdown game with Eureka.
Post 208 is expected to start Matt Patterson (6-1, 0.85 ERA in 66 innings) in the opener today against Anheuser-Busch. Patterson leads the St. Louis area with 69 strikeouts.
Manchester has plenty more pitching: Nick Oliver (5-2, 3.14 ERA in 55 2/3) or Nick Peterson (7-2, 1.81 ERA in 54 innings) may start the second game. Steven Hayes (2-0, 1.19 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings) has five saves.
Offensively, Hayes is hitting .344 with 15 doubles and a team-best 34 RBIs. Jeff Ericson is hitting .385 with 15 doubles and 24 RBIs.
* Anheuser-Busch won the District 11/12 title by sweeping a best-of-three series from the St. Louis Redbirds, 15-3 and 18-3.
Tom Stevison is the team's leading hitter and pitcher, though he will likely be in center field in today's opener as Scott Reese, Dominic Soaib or Alex Bartoni take the mound.
A-B, the defending zone champ, has won its last five games but coach Mike Clifton still sees his team as the underdog.
"We struggled all season because we're young," Clifton told the South City Journal. "But our sophomores are starting to step up and they are almost carrying us, really. We've been playing much better the last two weeks."